Conscious Consumerism

Are You An Eco-Fashion Hypocrite?

These days, it seems you can’t talk style without mentioning sustainability. But could you just be paying lip service to greenwashed consumerism?

Are You An Eco-Fashion Hypocrite?
Photo by SWZLE on Unsplash

Call it the Greta Thunberg effect.

Back in 2018, she started solo anti-climate change protests outside Sweden’s parliament in Stockholm.  A year later, the then-16-year old climate activist addressed the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit, gaining international recognition for her hard-hitting, yet heartfelt message addressed to world leaders: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”.

The Swedish teen has since become a leading voice in contemporary climate activism, inspiring countless Millennial and Gen Z girls and women in particular, and, quite possibly,  influencing their fashion choices to be more ecologically-oriented.

Sign showing “I AM WITH GRETA ” on a Fridays For Future demonstration in Berlin, January 2019Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

According to a 2019 McKinsey study “Fashion’s New Must-Have: Sustainable Sourcing at Scale”, online searches for “sustainable fashion” tripled between 2016 and 2019.

Not surprisingly, mass market apparel brands and retailers increased their sustainable clothing offerings by five times between 2017 and 2018.

However, by the first half of 2019, only 1 per cent of their product offerings was tagged sustainable.

According to, more than half of these industry players want at least half of their products to be made with sustainable materials by 2025 — but the question remains: how will they manage that within a few short years?

An Aug 2020 survey by of 5,000 respondents aged 16-75 from five countries in Europe, confirms that consumers are concerned about social and environmental issues in the fashion industry. For example:

• 72 per cent feel it’s important that fashion brands have ethical certifications;

• 80 per cent feel it’s important for brands to have sustainable certifications,

• 79 per cent want fashion brands to provide detailed information about product care and repair;

• 78 per cent want to know a product’s environment impact, and

• 70 per cent want fair wages and working conditions for people in the supply chain

Despite this, they didn’t seem as concerned about social and environmental impact surrounding their shopping habits:

• 39 per cent said they tried to buy clothes in a sale, whereas only 19 per cent tried to buy clothing made in an environmentally responsible way.

• 63 per cent wore clothes for a few years, meaning 37 per cent didn’t;

• 40 per cent repaired clothes that are damaged, which means 60 per cent didn’t;

• 14 per cent of people tried to purchase second-hand clothing;

• 11 per cent bought clothes certified as organic;

• 21 percent bought clothes made in an environmentally sustainable way.

• Only 8 per cent bought clothes made from recycled materials, and only 16 per cent bought ones certified as fair trade.

Photo by Maria Orlova from Pexels

In the meantime, it’s estimated that between 80 and 100 billion pieces of clothing are being produced each year (source: The True Cost). According to UN Environment, we’re buying more clothes than ever, with the average consumer purchasing 60 per cent more clothing than they did 15 years ago.

We throw away 7 pounds of clothing per person on average, annually. A study has found that one in six millennials refuse to repeat an outfit that they’ve already posted themselves wearing on social media.

According to UK charity Barnado’s, 25 per cent of people would be embarrassed to wear an outfit to a special occasion more than once, with this rising to 37 per cent among 16-24 year olds. As a result, an item of clothing might only get worn seven times before it’s tossed or donated.

Does that make us eco-fashion hypocrites, who merely pay lip service to sustainable fashion while still flagrantly practising wasteful consumerist behaviour?

It can indeed be an uneasy balancing act, navigating the temptations of shiny, new trends and trying to make informed choices about eco-friendly sartorial options, while exploring and expressing one’s identity through style finds, and of course, trying to get as many likes and followers on social media.

A quick look at the growing numbers of female eco-fashion influencers hashtagging anything from #sustainablefashion #lovedclotheslast, #secondhand, #ethicalfashion #30wears #circularfashion throws up some uncomfortable moments.

For example, UK’s @venetialamann has received a lot of praise for posting #OOTDs (her outfit of the day, assembled using old or secondhand or thrifted clothing) and calling out fast fashion retailers on certain unethical or un-ecological practices.

But when she called out fashion retailer Boohoo’s “billionaire bosses”, who were “set to take home GBP50m in bonuses …  in the same year the faster than fast fashion brand was accused of allegedly using illegal labour in Leicester, they have announced a 41 per cent increase in profits”, she added: “As a final note, this video is not calling out individuals for shopping at Boohoo (or other big fashion brands), it’s aimed to call out the CEOs responsible for this exploitation and call them in to do better”.

I couldn’t help but do a double-take at a cop-out like that. Isn’t it exactly because millions of shoppers can’t resist cheap fast fashion, that the bosses of fast fashion chains such as Boohoo become billionaires? Wouldn’t the most obvious thing for her to do, as an eco-fashion influencer, be to exhort her followers to vote with their wallets and shop elsewhere?

Perhaps @venetialamann was concerned about being perceived as elitist.

As points out in an online article “Conscious consumerism is  a lie: Here’s a better way to help save the world”: “The sustainability movement has been charged with being elitist—and it most certainly is. You need a fair amount of disposable income to afford ethical and sustainable consumption options, the leisure time to research the purchasing decisions you make, the luxury to turn up your nose at 95% of what you’re offered, and, arguably, a post-graduate degree in chemistry to understand the true meaning behind ingredient labels.”

Another online article, “How Instagram influencers fuel our destructive addiction to fast fashion” (huffingtonpost), notes that “the same demographic ramping up consumption through social shopping — millennials and generation Z — are also the ones with finely-tuned ecological consciences”.

So maybe it’s time for those who consider themselves to be in support of #sustainablefashion to slow down and examine how they’re actually consuming.

Do you have 20 different colour-coordinated yoga outfits (with matching water bottles made out of recyclable materials, and several different-coloured mats) when you only attend yoga class twice a week?

Photo by KoolShooters from Pexels

Do you only support sustainable brands and materials, but shop often and buy a lot in order to post many #ootds?

Do you have 20 different colour-coordinated yoga outfits (with matching water bottles made out of recyclable materials, and several different-coloured mats) when you only attend yoga class twice a week?

Do you buy sustainable clothing, but also leather goods, and jewellery made with mined stones?

Do you opt for “eco”-labelled products, but from brands whose eco products comprise only a tiny percentage of their product offerings?

Are your diet and wardrobe 100 per cent vegan, but you’re investing in cryptocurrencies which use up a lot of electricity to mine?

Then you may not be as eco-conscious as you think, no matter how many such brands you support.

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